Breath of Fire
Pastor Terry Inman
THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Crowds waiting for water baptism lined the banks of Israel’s Jordon River. Many were responding to the provocative message of John the Baptist. He was challenging people to change their ways and get ready for the Messiah’s arrival. Johns baptism was an act of repentance and purification.
John announced, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Luke 3.16 (NIV)
Immersion in water identifies us with the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. Immersion in the Holy Spirit fills us with God’s power. It is a breath of fire! The ancient Hebrew word for Spirit, ruwach means breath or wind. It is a strong wind or force, like a blast. The New Testament Greek word for spirit is pneuma. It is a current or stream of air, a breath or a blast.
The bible says Jesus “breathed (blew) on his disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20.22 (NIV) Today is Pentecost Sunday on the global church calendar. Pentecost is all about the first blast of the Holy Spirit’s wind and fire noted in the book of Acts.
Just fifty days after Jesus was resurrected and ten days following his ascension the manifestation of Holy Spirit was explosive. It is described as a torrent of wind with bursting flames of fire igniting a room full of praise.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.
They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2.1-4 (NIV)
Harbor Light is a Pentecostal Church. I am a second generation Pentecostal Pastor. Not everyone knows exactly what that means.
Sometimes if brings up weird perceptions of holy rollers, snake handlers, fund-raisers, or emotional screamers and ecstatic tongue talkers.
My older brother Ron was doing an art project when he was in Elementary school. The teacher put on some music and told students to draw anything thing they wanted. Ron drew a church with a steeple and then took out a penny and traced a picture of it on the roof. The teacher asked him what he was drawing. He said that’s my church it’s penny-cost.
The global church now celebrates Pentecost as the day God elected to pour out the power of His promised Holy Spirit on the emerging Church. After his ascension to heaven Jesus followers remained in Jerusalem prayerfully anticipating this promised event.
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” Acts 1.4 (NIV)
At first they thought he was talking about a restoration of political power. They asked Jesus if he was now going to restore the Kingdom to Israel.
He said only God knows when that will happen, but for now:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1: 8 (NIV)
Pentecost in the ancient Greek actually means “fifty”. Fifty days after the traditional Passover celebration the Jewish people observed another religious holiday called Shavout. (Shaw-voo) It means “feast of weeks” because it came seven weeks after Passover.
It is an annual harvest festival much like our thanksgiving. It was also the anniversary of the institution of the Torah. The Torah or the law was given on Mt. Sinai when God’s people were on their nomadic exodus.
For these liberated Israelis the restoration of their nationality is much like our Fourth of July. The law, its covenants and commandments, was like our declaration of independence, bill or rights, and constitution all in one.
So you can understand why the disciples hoped that Jesus was promising His political kingdom and yet another liberation from Roman domination.
The bible does say he will one day return and rule the earth as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But for now His Kingdom is expressed spiritually. The bible says, “the kingdom of God is with-in you”. Luke 17.21 (NIV)
It is expressed in us now by the empowering presence of His Holy Spirit.
This verse says it all. “Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5.5 (NIV)
God chose Pentecost; the day he gave His law to Israel to also be the day he provided the power of His Spirit to the new church! There are hints of this in Old Testament prophecies.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezek.36:26-27 (NIV)
Jesus came to fulfill the law and fill us with the Fathers promised Spirit.
The Apostle Paul says. “We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Romans 7.6 (NIV)
So its not surprising that on the day of Pentecost God chose to exhibit the gift of His Holy Spirit with what appeared to be very dramatic but familiar signals. Wind and Fire were signs of God’s power and presence.
The giving of the law was a dramatic prototype of Pentecost. When the law was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai the mountain blazed with volcanic conditions. The bible says it was burning with fire, and covered by dark turbulent storm clouds. God’s people were told not even go near the mountain. God’s thundering voice was terrifying to the Hebrew tribes.
I’m sure many of the Jews celebrating this anniversary of the law on this feast of Pentecost would have made the connection. The bible says the gathered crowds watching this phenomenon were amazed while others mocked the speaking in unknown tongues as drunkenness.
After Peter courageously explained the significance of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit thousands joined the new church in a day. One of the most significant things Peter quoted from the prophet Joel impacts us today.
“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people: Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams. When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit on those who serve me men and women both, and they’ll prophesy.” Acts 2.17-18 (MSG)
So our annual celebration of Pentecost in only a reminder of this opening outburst where God’s people praised Him in several unlearned languages. But what the bible calls the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit is available to all of us. Peter confirmed this with this declaration.
Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is targeted to you and your children, but also to all who are far away—whomever, in fact, our Master God invites. Acts 2.39 (MSG)
The baptism of the Holy Spirit, this breath of fire, is clearly God’s gift for everyone. So what is its purpose and how do we receive it? Fire is a vivid image for God’s presence, His power, passion and purity.
Jesus told his disciples when he left he would ask the Father to send his Holy Spirit. He would not only be with us but in us. A flame was always lit in the temple lamps as a sign of God’s presence.
Fire appeared over the heads of all who received this gift at Pentecost. The bible says, we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a greater infusion of God’s personal presence.
Jesus made it very clear we would receive power (dynamis) to be witnesses. A witness gives testimony to the truth. God’s spirit empowers us to speak up and represent Christ by our bold words and our works.
This breath of fire also increases our passion for Christ. We have a greater desire to know him, and serve him. Fire is a source of warmth. The Holy Spirit keeps our love for God intimate and ignited!
Fire also purifies. The bible says God is a consuming fire. The Holy Spirit is our refiner. Our hearts are melted, our metal is tested and He brings out the best in us. The Holy Spirit holds our feet to the fire!
Some wonder what is the significance and purpose of speaking in other tongues or unlearned languages. On the day of Pentecost it’s was a sign of God’s promise and it was a supernatural means of communication in several languages.
But it is not just for translation. There are other occasions in the book of Acts where speaking in unknown languages is mentioned but translation was not needed. Paul does instruct the church that the public exercise of the gift of tongues should be accompanied by the gift of interpretation so every one understands and encouraged by it.
In our personal prayer speaking in tongues assists us in receiving revelation from God and gives us a spiritual vocabulary for praising God.
Paul said, if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, 1Corinthians 14.14 (NIV)
When we don’t know how to articulate what is in our hearts or on God’s mind praying in the spirit is helpful. “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.Rom. 8.26
According to scripture prayer in the spirit is encouraging and enriching. Jude 20 says, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.”
Receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit is as simple as asking and responding. If you…know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11.13 (NIV)
So ask, expect then respond. Sometimes we may think that God does the talking. He somehow seizes our mind and mouth and new languages come out. It is His Holy Spirit that fills us and empowers us but it is our mind, our vocal cords and our articulations that respond to His leading. By faith we open our hearts and mouths and being praising him in new expressions.